Home » Posts tagged 'of two minds'

Tag Archives: of two minds

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai III: Catacylsm
Click on image to purchase

Post categories

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai III: Cataclysm
Click on image to purchase

When Does This Travesty of a Mockery of a Sham Finally End?

When Does This Travesty of a Mockery of a Sham Finally End?

Credit bubbles are not engines of sustainable employment, they are only engines of malinvestment and wealth destruction on a grand scale.

We all know the Status Quo’s response to the global financial meltdown of 2008 has been a travesty of a mockery of a sham–smoke and mirrors, flimsy facades of “recovery,” simulacrum “reforms,” serial bubble-blowing and politically expedient can-kicking, all based on borrowing and printing trillions of dollars, yen, euros and yuan, quatloos, etc.

So when will the travesty of a mockery of a sham finally come to an end? Probably around 2022-25, with a few global crises and “saves” along the way to break up the monotony of devolution. The foundation of this forecast is this chart I prepared back in 2008 (below).

This is of course only a selection of cycles; many more may be active but these four give us a flavor of the confluence of crises ahead.

Cycles are not laws of Nature, of course; they are only records of previous periods of growth/excess/depletion/collapse, not predictions per se. Nonetheless their repetition reflects the systemic dynamic of growth, crisis and collapse, and so the study of cycles is instructive even though we stipulate they are not predictive.

What is predictable is the way systems tend to follow an S-curve of rapid growth with then tops out in excess, stagnates in depletion and then devolves or implodes. We can see all sorts of things topping out and entering depletion/collapse: financialization, the Savior State, Chinese credit expansion, oil production, student loan debt and so on.

Since each mechanism that burns out or implodes tends to be replaced with some other mechanism, this creates the recurring cycle of expansion / excess / depletion / collapse.

I plotted four long-wave cycles in the first chart:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

We’re All Speculators Now

We’re All Speculators Now

When the herd thunders off the cliff, most participants are trapped in the stampede..

One of the most perverse consequences of the central banks “saving the world” (i.e. saving banks and the super-wealthy) is the destruction of low-risk investments: we’re all speculators now, whether we know it or acknowledge it.

The problem is very few of us have the expertise and experience to be successful speculators, i.e. successfully manage treacherously high-risk markets. Here’s the choice facing money managers of pension funds and individuals alike: either invest in a safe low-risk asset such as Treasury bonds and lose money every year, as the yield doesn’t even match inflation, or accept the extraordinarily high risks of boom-bust bubble assets such as junk bonds, stocks, real estate, etc.

The core middle-class asset is the family home. Back in the pre-financialization era (pre-1982), buying a house and paying down the mortgage to build home equity was the equivalent of a savings account, with the added bonus of the potential for modest appreciation if you happened to buy in a desirable region.

In the late 1990s, the stable, boring market for mortgages was fully financialized and globalized, turning a relatively safe investment and debt market into a speculative commodity. We all know the results: with the explosion of easy access to unlimited credit via HELOCs (home equity lines of credit), liar loans (no-document mortgages), re-financing, etc., the hot credit-money pouring into housing inflated a stupendous bubble that subsequently popped, as all credit-asset bubbles eventually do, with devastating consequences for everyone who reckoned their success in a rising market was a permanent feature of the era and / or evidence of their financial genius.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Massive Deficit Spending Greenlights Waste, Fraud, Profiteering and Dysfunction

Massive Deficit Spending Greenlights Waste, Fraud, Profiteering and Dysfunction

America’s problem isn’t a lack of deficit spending/consumption. America’s problems are profoundly structural.

The nice thing about free to me money from any source is the recipients don’t have to change anything. Free money is the ultimate free-pass from consequence and adaptation: instead of having to make difficult trade-offs or suffer the consequences of profligacy, the recipients of free money are saved: they can continue on their merry way, ignoring the monumental dysfunction of their lifestyle.

This explains the appeal of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), which holds that deficit spending is the “solution” to all our problems because governments can’t go broke–they can always emit whatever currency they need via printing or borrowing.

The problem with government deficit spending is it’s free money to the recipients: there are no feedback mechanisms to enforce any consequences for spending that’s wasteful, fraudulent or inefficient/ineffective.

Deficit spending simply enables the wasteful, corrupt, rewarding-insiders profiteering state-cartel kleptocracy to continue gorging on public spending.So what desperately needed efficiencies and improvements are imposed on the higher education cartel by handing the cartel another trillion dollars of public spending? None.

What desperately needed efficiencies and improvements are imposed on the healthcare cartel by handing the cartel trillions of dollars in publicly funded “Medicare for all”? None.

What desperately needed efficiencies and improvements are imposed on the national defense cartel by handing the cartel additional trillions of public spending? None.

What kind of sense does it make to encourage wasteful consumption on a finite planet with limited resources? The entire rationale of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is that the productive capacity of the economy isn’t being maxed out because we’re not consuming enough.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Next Financial Crisis Is Right on Schedule (2019)

The Next Financial Crisis Is Right on Schedule (2019)

Neither small business nor the bottom 90% of households can afford this “best economy ever.”

After 10 years of unprecedented goosing, some of the real economy is finally overheating: costs are heating up, unemployment is at historic lows, small business optimism is high, and so on–all classic indicators that the top of this cycle is in.

Financial assets have been goosed to record highs in the everything bubble.Buy the dip has worked in stocks, bonds and real estate–what’s not to like?

Beneath the surface, the frantic goosing has planted seeds of financial crisis which have sprouted and are about to blossom with devastating effect. There are two related systems-level concepts which illuminate the coming crisis: the S-Curve and non-linear effects.

The S-Curve (illustrated below) is visible in both natural and human systems.The boost phase of rapid growth/adoption is followed by a linear phase of maturity in which growth/adoption slows as the dynamic has reached into the far corners of the audience / market: everybody already caught the cold, bought Apple stock, etc.

The linear stage of maturity is followed by a decline phase that’s non-linear.Linear means 1 unit of input yields 1 unit of output. Non-linear means 1 unit of input yields 100 unit of output. In the first case, moving 1 unit of snow clears a modest path. In the second case, moving 1 unit of snow unleashes an avalanche.

The previous two bubbles that topped/popped in 2000-01 and 2008-09 both exhibited non-linear dynamics that scared the bejabbers out of the central bank/state authorities accustomed to linear systems.

In a panic, former Fed chair Alan Greenspan pushed interest rates to historic lows to inflate another bubble, thus insuring the next bubble would manifest even greater non-linear devastation.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

ponents.

How Things Fall Apart: Extremes Aren’t Stable

How Things Fall Apart: Extremes Aren’t Stable

A funny thing happens on the way to stabilizing things by doing more of what’s failed: the system becomes even more unstable, brittle and fragile.

A peculiar faith in pushing extremes to new heights has taken hold in official circles over the past decade: when past extremes push the system to the breaking point and everything starts unraveling, the trendy solution in official circles is to double-down, pushing even greater extremes. If this fails, then the solution is to double-down again. And so on.

So when uncreditworthy borrowers default on stupendous loans they were never qualified to receive, the solution is to extend even more stupendous sums of new credit so the borrower can roll over the old debt and make a few interest payments for appearance’s sake (also known as “saving face.”)

A funny thing happens on the way to stabilizing things by doing more of what’s failed: the system becomes even more unstable, brittle and fragile.

Central banks and states have latched onto a solution akin to a perpetual-motion machine: the solution to all problems is simple: print or borrow another trillion. If the problem persists, repeat the print/borrow another trillion until it goes away.

Consider China, a nation (like many others) dependent on a vast, never-ending expansion of credit. So what happens when defaults start piling up in the shadow banking system? The central bank/state authorities conjure up a couple trillion yuan (a.k.a. liquidity) so defaults go away: here, Mr. Bad-Risk-Default, is government-issued credit so you can pay off your defaulted private-sector loan. Everybody saves face, private losses have been transferred to the public sector/state, problem solved.

Small banks over-extended and technically insolvent? Solution: print or borrow another trillion and give the insolvent bank the dough. Problem solved!

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

After 10 Years of “Recovery,” What Are Central Banks So Afraid Of?

After 10 Years of “Recovery,” What Are Central Banks So Afraid Of?

If the world’s economies still need central bank life support to survive, they aren’t healthy–they’re barely clinging to life.

The “recovery”/Bull Market is in its 10th year, and yet central banks are still tiptoeing around as if the tiniest misstep will cause the whole shebang to shatter: what are they so afraid of? The cognitive dissonance / crazy-making is off the charts:

On the one hand, central banks are still pursuing unprecedented stimulus via historically low interest rates, liquidity and easing the creation of credit on a vast scale. Some central banks continue to buy assets such as stocks and bonds to directly prop up the “market.” (If assets don’t actually trade freely, is it even a market?)

On the other hand, we’re being told the global economy is in synchronized growth and this is the greatest economy ever in the U.S. and China.

Wait a minute: so the patient has been on life-support for 10 years and authorities are telling us the patient is now super-healthy? If the patient is so healthy, then why is he still on life support after 10 years of “recovery”? If the global economy is truly healthy, then central banks should end all their stimulus programs and let the market discover the price of credit, risk and assets.

If the economy is truly expanding organically, i.e. under its own power, then it doesn’t need the life-support of manipulated low interest rates, trillions of dollars in central bank asset purchases, trillions of dollars in backstopping, guarantees, credit swaps, etc.

If the economy were truly recovering, wouldn’t central banks have tapered their stimulus and intervention long ago? Instead, central bank stimulus skyrocketed to new highs in 2015-2017 as global markets took a slight wobble.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Global Financial System Is Unraveling, And No, the U.S. Is Not immune

The Global Financial System Is Unraveling, And No, the U.S. Is Not immune

Currencies don’t melt down randomly. This is only the first stage of a complete re-ordering of the global financial system.
Take a look at the Shanghai Stock Market (China) and tell me what you see:
A complete meltdown, right? More specifically, a four-month battle to cling to the key technical support of the 200-week moving average (the red line). Once the support finally broke, the index crashed.
Now take a look at the U.S. S&P 500 stock market (SPX):
SPX is soaring to new highs, not just climbing a wall of worry but leaping over it. So the engine of global growth–China–is exhibiting signs of serious disorder, and the world’s consumerist paradise–the U.S.– is on a euphoric high (Ibogaine in the water supply?)
This divergence is worth pondering. How can the two economies that have powered a 28-year Bull Market in just about everything (setting aside that spot of bother in 2008-09) be responding so differently to the global economy and global financial system’s woes?
There’s a rule of thumb that’s also worth pondering. While the stock market attracts all the media attention–every news cast reports the daily closing the the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the SPX and the Nasdaq stock index–the bond market is larger and more consequential. And larger still is the currency market–foreign exchange (FX).
As the chart below illustrates, a great many currencies around the world are in complete meltdown. This is not normal. Nations that over-borrow, over-spend and print too much of their currency to generate an illusion of solvency eventually experience a currency crisis as investors and traders lose faith in the currency as a store of value, i.e. the faith that it will have the same (or more) purchasing power in a month that it has today.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Once the Bubbles Pop, We’re Broke

Once the Bubbles Pop, We’re Broke

I hate to break it to you, but the everything bubble isn’t permanent.
OK, I get it–the Bull Market in stocks is permanent. Bulls will be chortling in 2030 that skeptics have been wrong for 22 years–an entire generation. Bonds will also be higher, thanks to negative interest rates, and housing will still be climbing higher, too. Household net worth will be measured in the gazillions.
Here’s the Fed’s measure of current household net worth: a cool $100 trillion, about 750% of disposable personal income (DPI):
Household net worth has soared $30 trillion in the past decade of permanent monetary and fiscal stimulus. No wonder everyone is saying Universal Basic Income (UBI)– $1,000 a month for every adult, no questions asked–is affordable, along with Medicare For All (never mind that Medicare is far more expensive than the healthcare provided by other advanced nations due to rampant profiteering, fraud and paperwork costs–we can afford it!)
And we get to keep the Endless Wars ™, trillion-dollar white elephant F-35 program, and all the other goodies–we can afford it all because we’re rich!
We’re only rich until the bubbles pop, which they will. All speculative bubbles deflate, even those that are presumed permanent, And when the current everything bubble pops, net worth–and all the taxes generated by bubble-era capital gains–vanish.
Take a look at the Federal Reserve’s Household Balance Sheet (June 2018):
$34.6 trillion in non-financial assets
$81.7 trillion in financial assets
$15.6 trillion in total liabilities ($10 trillion of which is home mortgages)
$100 trillion in net worth
So $25 trillion is in real estate. When the housing bubble pops, $10 trillion will go poof. Maybe $12 trillion, but why quibble about a lousy $2 trillion? We’re rich!

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why Is Productivity Dead in the Water?

Why Is Productivity Dead in the Water?

The only possible output of this system is extortion as a way of life.

As the accompanying chart shows, productivity in the U.S. has been declining since the early 2000s. This trend mystifies economists, as the tremendous investments in software, robotics, networks and mobile computing would be expected to boost productivity, as these tools enable every individual who knows how to use them to produce more value.

One theory holds that the workforce has not yet learned how to use these tools, an idea that arose in the 1980s to explain the decline in productivity even as personal computers, desktop publishing, etc. entered the mainstream.

A related explanation holds that institutions and corporations are not deploying the new technologies very effectively for a variety of reasons: the cost of integrating legacy systems, insufficient training of their workforce, and hasty, ill-planned investments in mobile platforms that don’t actually yield higher productivity.

Productivity matters because producing more value with every unit of energy, every tool and every hour of labor is the foundation of higher wages, profits, taxes and general prosperity.

I have four theories about the secular decline in productivity, and all are difficult to model and back up with data, as they are inherently ambiguous and hard to quantify.

1. Mobile telephony and social media distract workers so significantly and ubiquitously that the work being produced has declined per worker/per hour of paid labor.

2. Public and private institutions have become grossly inefficient and ineffective, soaking up any gains in productivity via their wasteful processes and institutionalized incompetence.

3. Our institutions have substituted signaling and compliance for productivity.

4. The financial elites at the top of our neofeudal economy have optimized protecting their skims and scams above all else; their focus is rigging the system in their favor and so productivity is of no concern to them.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Here’s How We Ended Up with Predatory, Parasitic Elites

Here’s How We Ended Up with Predatory, Parasitic Elites

Combine financialization, neoliberalism and moral bankruptcy, and you end up with predatory, parasitic elites.

How did our financial and political elites become predatory parasites? Some will answer that elites have always been predatory parasites; as tempting as it may be to offer a blanket denunciation of elites, this overlooks the eras in which elites rose to meet existential crises.

Following in Ancient Rome’s Footsteps: Moral Decay, Rising Wealth Inequality(September 30, 2015)

As historian Peter Turchin explained in his book War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires, the value of sacrifice was a core characteristic of the early Republic’s elite:

“Unlike the selfish elites of the later periods, the aristocracy of the early Republic did not spare its blood or treasure in the service of the common interest. When 50,000 Romans, a staggering one fifth of Rome’s total manpower, perished in the battle of Cannae, as mentioned previously, the senate lost almost one third of its membership. This suggests that the senatorial aristocracy was more likely to be killed in wars than the average citizen….

The wealthy classes were also the first to volunteer extra taxes when they were needed… A graduated scale was used in which the senators paid the most, followed by the knights, and then other citizens. In addition, officers and centurions (but not common soldiers!) served without pay, saving the state 20 percent of the legion’s payroll.

The richest 1 percent of the Romans during the early Republic was only 10 to 20 times as wealthy as an average Roman citizen.”

Now compare that to the situation in Late Antiquity Rome when

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

To Understand America’s Neofeudal Economy, Start with Extortion

To Understand America’s Neofeudal Economy, Start with Extortion

Here is the result of America’s neofeudalism: soaring wealth and income inequality.

Let’s spin the time machine back to the late Middle Ages, at the height of feudalism, and imagine we’re trying to get a boatload of goods to the nearest city to sell. As we drift down the river, we’re constantly being stopped and charged a fee for transiting one small fiefdom after another. When we finally reach the city, there’s an entry fee for bringing our goods to market.

Note that none of these fees were payments for improvements to transport or for services rendered; they were simply extortion. This was the economic structure of feudalism: petty fiefdoms levied extortionate fees that funded the lifestyles of nobility.

This is why I have long called America’s economy neofeudal: we pay ever higher fees for services that are degrading, not improving. This is the essence of extortion: we don’t get any improvement in goods and services for the extra money we’re forced to pay.

Consider higher education: costs are soaring while the value of the “product”–a college diploma–declines. What extra value are students receiving for the doubling of tuition and fees? The short answer is “none.” College diplomas are in over-supply, and studies have found that a majority of students learn remarkably little of value in college.

As I explain in my book The Nearly Free University and the Emerging Economy, the solution is to accredit the student, not the institution. If the student learned very little, he/she doesn’t get credentialed.

Were students to have access to the best classroom lectures online (nearly free), and on-the-job apprenticeships in the workplace, (nearly free or perhaps even paid), learning would be significantly improved and costs reduced by 80% to 90%.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How “Wealthy” Would We Be If We Stopped Borrowing Trillions Every Year?

How “Wealthy” Would We Be If We Stopped Borrowing Trillions Every Year?

These charts reflect a linear system that is wobbling into the first stages of non-linear destabilization.

The widespread presumption is the U.S. is wealthy beyond words, and will remain so as far as the eye can see: wealthy enough to fund trillion-dollar weapons systems, trillion-dollar endless wars, multi-trillion dollar Medicare for all, multi-trillion dollar Universal Basic Income, and so on, in an endless profusion of endless trillions.

Just as a thought experiment, let’s ask: how “wealthy” would we be if we stopped borrowing trillions of dollars every year? Or put another way, how “wealthy” would we be if the rest of the world stops buying our trillions in newly issued bonds, mortgages, auto loans, etc.?

The verboten reality is our “wealth” is nothing but a sand castle of debt. Take away more borrowing and the castle melts away. I’ve gathered a selection of charts that show just how dependent we are on massive debt expansion that continues essentially forever, as any pause in debt expansion will collapse the entire system.

Corporate buybacks have powered rising corporate earnings–and the buybacks are funded by debt. Corporate debt has exploded higher in the past decade, enabling stock buybacks on an unprecedented scale.

Government debt–federal, state and local– is rising an exponential rates.We’re not paying for more government programs with earnings–we’re simply borrowing trillions and hoping we can borrow the interest payments that will also rise along with the debt.

Household debt, student loans, auto loans–all are soaring. The corporate sector, government and the household sector–all are living on borrowed money, and relying on magical thinking to mask the inevitable consequences.

Here’s debt to GDP. Yes, the economy expanded, but debt expanded much faster. Every additional dollar of GDP now requires multiple dollars of new debt.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Telltale Signs of Imperial Decline

The Telltale Signs of Imperial Decline

Nothing is as permanent as we imagine–especially super-complex, super-costly, super-asymmetric and super-debt-dependent systems.

Check which signs of Imperial decline you see around you: The hubris of an increasingly incestuous and out-of-touch leadership; dismaying extremes of wealth inequality; self-serving, avaricious Elites; rising dependency of the lower classes on free Bread and Circuses provided by a government careening toward insolvency due to stagnating tax revenues and vast over-reach–let’s stop there to catch our breath. Check, check, check and check.

Sir John Glubb listed a few others in his seminal essay on the end of empiresThe Fate of Empires, what might be called the dynamics of decadence:

(a) A growing love of money as an end in itself: Check.

(b) A lengthy period of wealth and ease, which makes people complacent. They lose their edge; they forget the traits (confidence, energy, hard work) that built their civilization: Check.

(c) Selfishness and self-absorption: Check.

(d) Loss of any sense of duty to the common good: Check.

Glubb included the following in his list of the characteristics of decadence:

— an increase in frivolity, hedonism, materialism and the worship of unproductive celebrity (paging any Kardashians in the venue…)

— a loss of social cohesion

— willingness of an increasing number to live at the expense of a bloated bureaucratic state

Historian Peter Turchin, whom I have often excerpted here, listed three disintegrative forces that gnaw away the fibers of an Imperial economy and social order:

1. Stagnating real wages due to oversupply of labor

2. overproduction of parasitic Elites

3. Deterioration of central state finances

War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires

To these lists I would add a few more that are especially visible in the current Global Empire of Debt that encircles the globe and encompasses nations of all sizes and political/cultural persuasions:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Our “Prosperity” Is Now Dependent on Predatory Globalization

Our “Prosperity” Is Now Dependent on Predatory Globalization

Nowadays, trade and “prosperity” are dependent on currencies that are created out of thin air via borrowing or printing.

So here’s the story explaining why “free” trade and globalization create so much wonderful prosperity for all of us: I find a nation with cheap labor and no environmental laws anxious to give me cheap land and tax credits, so I move my factory from my high-cost, highly regulated nation to the low-cost nation, and keep all the profits I reap from the move for myself. Yea for free trade, I’m now far wealthier than I was before.

That’s the story. Feel better about “free” trade and globalization now? Oh wait a minute, there’s something missing–the part about “prosperity for all of us.” Here’s labor’s share of U.S. GDP, which includes imports and exports, i.e. trade:

Notice how labor’s share of the economy tanked once globalization / offshoring kicked into high gear? Now let’s see what happened to corporate profits at that same point in time:

Imagine that–corporate profits skyrocketed once globalization / offshoring kicked into high gear. Explain that part about “makes us all prosperous” again, because there’s no data to support that narrative.

What’s interesting about all this is the way that politicians are openly threatening voters with recession if they vote against globalization. In other words, whatever “prosperity” is still being distributed to the bottom 80% is now dependent on a predatory version of globalization.

Let’s rewind to the era of truly free trade, from the late Bronze Age up to the Roman Era. In the late Bronze Age (circa 1800 to 1200 B.C.), vigorous trade tied together the ancient empires and states of the Mideast and the Mediterranean. In the Roman Era, trade in silk and other luxuries tied China, India, Africa, the Mideast and the Roman Mediterranean together in a vast trading network.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

We’ll Pay All Those Future Obligations by Impoverishing Everyone (How to Destroy Our Currency In One Easy Lesson)

The only way to pay all these future obligations is by creating new money.
I’ve been focusing on inflation, which is more properly understood as the loss of purchasing power of a currency, which when taken to extremes destroys the currency and the wealth/income of everyone forced to use that currency.
The funny thing about the loss of a currency’s purchasing power is that it wipes out every holder of that currency, rich and not-so-rich alike. There are a few basics we need to cover first to understand how soaring future obligations–pensions, healthcare, entitlements, interest on debt, etc.–lead to a feedback loop which will hasten the loss of purchasing power of our currency, the US dollar.
1. As I have explained many times, the only possible output of the way we create and distribute “money” (credit and currency) is soaring wealth/income inequality, as all the new money flows to the wealthy, who use the “cheap” money from central and private banks to lend at high rates of interest to debt-serfs, buy back corporate shares or buy up income-producing assets.
The net result is whatever actual “growth” has occurred (removing the illusory growth that accounts for much of the GDP “growth” this decade) has flowed almost exclusively to the top of the wealth-power pyramid (see chart below).
2. Much of the “growth” that’s supposed to fund public and private obligations is fictitious. Please read Michael Hudson’s brief comments for a taste of how this works: The “Next” Financial Crisis and Public Banking as the Response.
The mainstream financial media swallows the bogus “growth” story without question because that story is the linchpin of the entire status quo: if it’s revealed as inaccurate, i.e. statistical sleight of hand, the whole idea that “growth” can effortlessly fund all future obligations goes up in flames.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai III: Cataclysm
Click on image to purchase